Doctoral Learning Experiences through Song Lyrics

Hey Y’all

My name is TJ and I am a first year doc student in the CSAA program at UGA. I was asked by my lovely advisor if I would be willing to write a blog about what my experience in the program and pursuing doctoral studies. One of the first things you should know about me is that I am extremely creative and love to work outside of all proverbial boxes (if I can). I had hoped to do a video (maybe the next one Dr. Linder? 🙂 ) but time got away from me. Hopefully in the near future I’ll get to do that for you!

In any case, for all of those who might be reading and determining if doctoral studies are for you, I didn’t want to give you the “same ol’ blog.” I want talk about my experiences in a way that reflect me and my style. So I have decided to bring you:

The Top 5 Things I have Learned (so far) as a Doctoral Student…. through song lyrics!

So let’s do this

Number 5 – Time is everything – fourfiveseconds


(Photo Description: A close-up of a faded wooden desk with a sky blue binder, a mac keyboard, and mac mouse. Lyrics are written “I’m 4, 5 seconds from wilin’ and we got three more days til Friday –Rihanna”)

Time is of the utmost importance in a doctoral program and there is no better artist than Rihanna to illustrate that. A person who has used her time wisely and effectively. As a doc student you are potentially committing years of your life to a rigorous but rewarding process. I have learned that while a doctoral program is complex and pushes you to think, write, and be better, the single most difficult part is how you manage your time. I have learned that time is one of my most valuable belongings. It is important that I am careful and intentional with who gets it, what gets it, when they get it and for how long. Being able to manage my time and perhaps more importantly my energy will make or break my success and well-being and it only takes 4 or 5 seconds to fall behind! And let’s face it, we never stop looking forward to Friday, even as PhD students!

  1. Honesty is everything. – Pray You Catch Me


(Photo Description: A wide-shot photo of an open and empty land with a sunset on the horizon and a tiny moon barely visible in the sky with the lyrics “You can taste the dishonesty it’s all over your breath. As you pass it off so cavalier, but even that’s a test…” –Beyoncé)

It is probably natural to feel a little out of your element in any new situation. However, I wasn’t really prepared for the full-blown imposter syndrome that I have felt at times. Beyoncé reminds me of this feeling, of being an imposter, a liar, through her critically acclaimed project, Lemonade; specifically the song “Pray You Catch Me.” I really find myself asking the question, what am I doing here? And I ask it often. What I have learned is that these moments and are almost always me being too hard on myself, beating up on myself for not being smarter, reading faster, or digging deeper. So yes, maybe there are moments when I don’t feel like I totally belong here, and at the same time I recognize that without conflict there is no change. So I just do my best, stay honest, and try to be gentle with myself, this is all part of the process. And in those moments when I feel like I don’t know or recognize myself, when I feel like an imposter, I remember it’s only a test.

Number 3 – Knowledge is everything. – Think


(Photo Description: An open grassy field is empty with coniferous trees on the horizon and cloudy skies. With the lyrics “You better think (think) think about what you’re trying to do to me. Yeah, think (think, think), let your mind go, let yourself be free” – Aretha Franklin)

Before this process I thought I knew who I was, what I was, what I thought, and where I was going in life (See number 4). There is no better artist than the legendary Aretha Franklin that could capture how wrong I was. Doctoral studies is not about “finding yourself” but rather creating yourself! In my experience no one has told me what to think or how to think, rather the people and this process are only asking that I take time, and think. Deeply and critically. The CSAA program at UGA has a wonderful curriculum and outstanding faculty that have provided me with the perfect levels of challenge and support around this. I felt like I knew a lot before I got here but it was Albert Einstein who reminded me that “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I do not know,” and that is perfectly ok.

Number 2 – Self-Care is everything – The Greatest Love of All


(Photo Description: A misty ocean is captured with the faint silhouette of a mountain. Water crashes over the rocks in the foreground with the lyrics “I found the greatest love of all inside of me.” Whitney Houston)

As much as this process has been about learning, engaging, transitioning, and delivering (in my assistantship as well as the classroom) it is equally about taking care of myself. Any life experience can be hard at times. The doctoral experience has been difficult in a way that is new to me. The longest I have every been away from my hometown of Columbus (Go Bucks!) is 4 months. Being away from my friends, family, and all the things I know to be familiar coupled with the complexity of doctoral study has been and likely will continue to be challenging. But my Mom once told me, you can’t serve from an empty cup. As much as my experience has been about pushing myself it has also been about taking care of myself. Hanging with Joan and Marvette (Doctoral candidates in the program), laughing with Meg (first year like me), or getting into spirited debates with Brittany (second year), are all moments that have left indelible imprints on my heart. Doctoral studies is head, hand, and heart work. And all three are needed to be successful, I must tend to all three, I have to honor all three. And watching the Walking Dead, How to Get Away with Murder, and the World Series with friends and colleagues is critical. Just as critical as writing and reading for class. Love as much as any other aspect is integral to success and like the late Whitney Houston I have found time and time again the greatest love, can be found right inside of me; and also in the CSAA community.

Number 1 – Personalization is everything – Waterfalls


(An aerial photo of a body of water that meets the coast of some land. The water looks relatively still and the skies are blue with a few faint clouds. Lyrics are written that read “Don’t go chasing waterfalls…please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to.” TLC)

The most important thing that I have learned is that this doctoral journey is so deeply personal. No two experiences look or feel alike and I have to be deeply committed to going on my own path. It is easy to try and compare my experience with that of my peers. It is easy to want to check and see what others have done, or what they plan to do in this process, and it is a trap. The doctoral journey is mine for the taking and creating and I am so lucky to have a community of practice in CSAA that understands and encourages that. I am not pressured to be certain person, or to think a certain way. I am given the liberty to fully embrace my process (with the guidance of a wonderful advisor), to run and explore. TLC reminds me to stick to the rivers and lakes that I’m used to and I have no intention to go chasing after any waterfalls. I have to stay true to myself and my process. I have to stay true to the things that interest me and the things that energize me. So even as I write this blog, know that this is MY story and MY experience. Yours does not have to be mine.

When you one day start a program (because I am confident that you all will J ) and when you are asked what are the 5 things you learned in your first semester they may be totally different things than what I have mentioned. And that sounds perfectly fine to me, in fact, that’s music to my ears.

Stay excellent. –TJ

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